All right, so I've talked about mapping things out and alien civilizations, but when dealing with things on an interstellar scale, when you're talking about 4660 stars within a 100 light-year radius of Earth, with 153 alien homeworlds, not to mention colonies, outposts, stations and other holdings, one has to have a way to keep all that straight.
It helps that, when you come down to it, I'm a BIG spreadsheet geek.
About a decade or so ago, I had an office job in which my duties could be boiled down to, "Make Excel do my bidding." I'm not saying I'm an expert at Excel, but I've figured out a lot of tricks, without which I would never have been able to construct this universe, this interstellar community, to the degree that I have.
One of my biggest struggles is trying to visualize all that data, get a real sense of who is neighbor to who, where borders are. I'm still a big fan of ChView, which is an old program but has the advantage of being (relatively) easy to import Excel data into stellar maps. But even with that, it's still challenging to really feel who is close to who. I've developed some tricks-- being able to define any homeworld as a central star, and then getting the distance from that star to every other star, and then figure out who is close to that.
Also, I like having data at my fingertips that I can use to generate cultural ideas. Since I used a certain degree of randomization to determine which worlds had life, which life was intelligent, and which civilizations had reached the stars, to then look through that information and say to myself: OK, these three civilizations are all within a (interstellar) stone's throw of each other, so what does that mean? Are they allies, or enemies? Or, these two are close to each other, but also relatively close to this more advanced, aggressive species. So are they united against the common enemy?
I'm curious, does anyone out there have more interesting star-map making tools? I do like ChView, but it has flaws, for certain-- it's an old program that hasn't been updated in many years. But is there anything better? Most of the other things I've seen are weaker in design, or are not capable of importing data in an easy way; I'd have to start from scratch. Any recommendations?